MOUNT VERNON — The right to erect signage opposing or supporting a levy on public property has now been added to the mix of county election issues.
Jason Mihalick, a Knox County resident, placed a 4-foot-by-8-foot sign at the Knox County Health Department this morning showing his opposition to the levy. Mihalick told the News he wanted to do this because he feels he has the same right to oppose the levy on county property as the Committee For Public Health supporting the levy, which had placed signs at the health department.
Mihalick sent a letter to the health department and county assistant prosecutor Jennifer Springer on Tuesday evening requesting equal access.
In his letter, Mihalick states that a large sign was placed at the health department on Oct. 20. The same sign was the focus of a banner on the health department’s website. The banner provided a link to a Facebook page supporting the levy.
“I want to make it clear that I am not asking for anything more than what you have allowed/granted to the website and an opportunity to display my sign in opposition to the levy,” Mihalick said in his letter.
He was asking for banner space on the health department’s website in addition to a sign on the property.
“I just want equal time,” said Mihalick about putting up his sign since signage promoting the levy had already been up at least 10 days.
“[Springer] told me that I could not put a sign out there, and I argued that I could put up a sign,” he said, after speaking with Springer on Wednesday. “She said that I could picket, that I could actually stand out there and hold a sign ... well I work (during the day).”
Upon arrival at the health department this morning, Mihalick erected his sign. Springer arrived at the health department after Mihalick’s sign had been erected and stated she needed to speak with his attorney. “[My attorney] advised me I have the right to do this, so I’m doing it,” said Mihalick.
Springer advised the health department on Wednesday to take down the signs promoting the levy as well as the supportive information on its website. “I wasn’t aware these were up, and they did (remove them) immediately,” said Springer. “What they did didn’t automatically make their property a public forum for you to put your stuff out,” explained Springer.
Mihalick’s efforts were short lived as city Safety-Service Director Dave Glass instructed city employees to remove the sign at about 10 a.m., because after inspection, Glass felt the sign was blocking sight lines at the intersection. The sign was also in violation of the city’s signage code regarding size.
Mihalick told the News he would be willing to make a new sign that was in compliance with city zoning regulations and out of line of sight.
However, in a letter addressed to Mihalick this morning from Springer, she advised him that the county property which houses the health department is a non-public forum and “the Health Department can restrict public communications there. The fact that a member of the levy committee placed a sign on the property (or the right-of-way) does not mean that the Health Department has in any way designated the property as a place for public communication based solely on one incident. The remedy was to have the Health Department remove the sign, which they promptly did, and thus, the property went back to being a non-public forum.”
A similar issue occurs when signs promoting school levies appear on school property.
According to an article by Sara C. Clark, deputy director of legal services for the Ohio School Boards Association, a school board may permit a political action committee or school levy committee to post school levy or bond issue signs on school property. However, she cautions, “Boards should be prepared to post signs for anti-levy groups once they decide to allow pro-levy groups to use its property to post pro-levy signs.”
The article appears in the June 2011 issue of the OSBA Journal.
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